Hello everyone! My name is Hebah Bushra and I am an undergraduate student at the Honors College at Florida International University. I am majoring in Biological Sciences and Natural and Applied Sciences as well minoring in Chemistry. Some of my aims are to pursue a career in the medical field and travel to all 7 continents whilst trying different cuisines, volunteering, exploring cultures and religions, and meeting new people. I find gardening and painting to be my therapy in this chaotic world of ours. Although I have lived 3o minutes north of Miami my entire life and have most likely visited all of the beaches in South Florida, I have yet to experience the hidden treasures Miami encompasses. With this opportunity, I hope to gain knowledge of Miami’s concealed stories, diverse culture, and rich environment through the numerous destinations below.
Downtown Miami as Text
“Melting Pot Miami,” by Hebah Bushra of FIU at Downtown Miami, 29 January 2021
While driving through the shadows casted by the towering buildings of Downtown Miami, I realized that I have never set foot outside of my car and explored this colorful city in the 20 years I have lived in South Florida. Due to the pandemic, this busy city was quite muted which came to an advantage for me as I was able to grasp onto the architecture and scenery that Downtown Miami possesses. As we strolled through different areas of the city, the hidden history and melting pot of Miami was unveiled.
From the beginning of time, Miami, unlike many other major cities, consisted of people from different backgrounds who eventually found a way to live together. The interactions and presence of Seminoles, the Tequesta tribe, Bahamians, Jews, African Americans, the Miccosukee Tribe, Spanish conquistadors, White Americans, and Latin Americans displayed this beautiful melting pot that Miami held from the start.
Amid the roaring highway was a small park, Lummus park, containing two old houses, originally located near the Miami River, holding a great amount of history. Fort Dallas was originally built and quartered by African American slaves and later was taken hold of by the US army during the Seminole War from which it received its name by the Navy officer at that time. Once the army leaves after the Seminoles agree with a treaty, the house was utilized in several other ways such as a post office, the 1st courthouse of the county bought by Julia Tuttle, and a social gathering club. Although it is difficult to judge others of the past, it is important how we frame history. I really believe that the name of this historic structure is an insult to the suffering faced by the hardworking slaves in the 1840s and a name change to English Slave quarters is necessary to actually tell the history and origin of the house. Alongside the Fort of Dallas is Wagner’s house which tells a story of a positive moment in Miami’s history. Against the norm at that time, a German man named William Wagner married a Haitian woman. Wagner and his mixed race son encountered 17 Seminoles and offered them clothes and dinner. This beautiful interaction and some may say a real Thanksgiving is a great illustration of diverse people being at peace with one another and having a sense of unity.
Even with the mixture of people that make up Miami’s vast history, their representation is lacking and significance is undermined. For example, Miami Dade Cultural Center has a Spanish colonial theme which only represents one group of people leaving several others such as the Seminoles and Tequesta tribe. If you were unaware of Miami’s history, you would only see what the people want you to see and it portrays the wrong message.
Obtaining knowledge on Miami’s history immensely opened my eyes to the non inclusiveness and flawed portrayal of what Miami is. In school, I have never learned anything about Miami’s origin and only learned what people want to remember. It is important to call out how history is framed and learn about the past. Even with the gloomy history, the diversity and melting pot of Miami is unreal and there is always positive light. For example, the Freedom tower, Miami’s Ellis Island, symbolizes liberty and free will to many Cuban immigrants escaping from Castro’s repressive rule. I believe a great artwork which portrays this concept is right in the middle of the Government Center named Dropped Bowl with Scattered Slices and Peels by artists Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. This massive statement art depicts the spread of different cultures and groups of people in this populous metropolis.
Everglades as Text
“Being One With Nature,” by Hebah Bushra of FIU at Everglades National Park, 12 February 2021
When I stepped foot in the murky water surrounded by pond cypress trees I expected warm water as after all, we are in sunny South Florida. However, to my surprise, the water was cold which actually had an instant soothing effect on my nerves. With the help of my walking stick and gradually gaining balance on this unusual surface, I finally looked up to see the captivating environment surrounding me.
The Everglades started experiencing harmful biodiversity depletion and habitat loss dating back to Henry Flagler’s touch in Miami. This resourceful environment was at one point home to different Native American tribes. I learned that the cypress trees were a survival tool to create boats as the trees were hollowed out with fire and scraped with shells which surprised me at first as the trees next to me were very thin. As we went deeper inside the tree framed dome, the water level increased, the trees were much larger, and I observed more flora and fauna. I was determined to spot an alligator but I realized I was more appreciative of seeing the small creatures that play a major role and inhabit this area and such as woodpeckers, mosquito fish, and even a red cardinal. I gained the knowledge of how natural and prescribed fires are a key component for the Everglades’ prairies to thrive as the absence of fire creates crowding and overgrown plants. Certain plants such as sawgrass can take over and with no sunlight reaching down, there is a decrease in the population size of species. The burns clear the top and opens up the understories so various species can develop. Pine Rockland is the most biodiverse habitat in the National Park with 23 species of endemics and according to Ranger Dylan, this environment would have extended far all the way to Downtown Miami.
Ranger Dylan read a poem by Anne McCrary Sullivan who would explore the Everglades on her own and find a spot to sit and write. She refers to the Everglades as an in between place where it is not quite land or water and describes the way the world is when we (humans) are not there. As I separated from the group to explore my surroundings, I discovered this fallen tree which was still alive and decided to sit on it for a minute or two as Anne McCrary and listen to my surroundings. I felt one with nature hearing the creaks of the cypress trees, chirps of birds, and the gusts of wind. At this moment of the silent yet loud atmosphere, I understood the poem and what Sullivan was trying to illustrate through her words about being in an untouched place, which I would have not comprehended a day before.